JEFFERSON — Ashe Memorial Hospital recently announced the expansion of its oncology program, allowing them now to treat those with cancer right here in Ashe County.
According to Laura Lambeth, AMH Chief Executive Officer, the $100,000 expansion has been in the works for over a year.
Funding for the expansion came from former hospital employee, Mary Carter Severt, who passed away in March of 2005. Severt worked in the medical records department and left funds from her estate to AMH that was to be used for a new hospital service. The funds became available after her husband Thomas died last January.
“What a wonderful story of how an employee that retired here left money to bring a new service to Ashe County,” Lambeth said.
That new service will allow AMH to provide chemotherapy to cancer patients who previously had to drive out of the county for their treatments.
“We have a new infusion area that’s located adjacent to Dr. Michael Tate’s (oncology) practice and Dr. Flint Grey, who’s been coming to Ashe for 15 years,” Lambeth said. “In the past, patients had to travel 45 minutes to Boone or an hour and a half to Winston (Salem) to get a chemotherapy treatment. They’re not going to have to do that anymore.”
According to Lambeth, before AMH designed the lounge where chemotherapy will be given, several patients who had previously undergone the cancer treatment were interviewed.
“That gave us a wealth of information to guide us on what to do – what did the patients really like, what didn’t they like,” Lambeth said.
The area, which Lambeth calls “state of the art,” features new smart pump monitors, comfortable chairs, a snack area, restrooms and a patio area with a view of Mt. Jefferson. Patients are also given an iPad to help pass the time.
Sherry Cox, Vice President Of Human Resources, will oversee oncology at AMH and said two certified oncology nurses will work in treating patients.
AMH also has a new infusion area which is where the chemotherapy drugs will be mixed.
According to Lambeth, AMH had to pass rigorous inspections from the North Carolina Board of Pharmacy in order to provide chemo compounding.
The room, which Lambeth says is as sterile as a hospital operating room, features a stainless steel hood and door and its temperature and humidity are monitored by staff even if the drugs are not being mixed at that time.
At home visits
AMH patients will also be offered the opportunity to have their blood drawn at home prior to their chemotherapy treatments.
“Blood counts have to be monitored on a regular basis and usually that happens before a chemotherapy treatment and we want to be able to go to their home to keep them from having to get out and make that extra effort when they’re sick and not feeling well,” Sara Houser, Chief Nursing Officer, said. “It’s very patient focused. Rather than expecting the patient to come to us, we’re going to reach out and go to them.”
Houser also said that patients who opt to have their blood drawn at home will see the same nurses who help with their chemotherapy.
“During chemotherapy, it’s a very emotional time for the patients. We want to make sure that they’ve got the continuity of the same faces day in and day out when they’re here,” Houser said. “Relationships develop and they become comfortable with those individuals that are caring for them. We want to make sure that we provide that.”
Lambeth said that AMH already treated its first patient, Dean Gilley, last week.
Gilley, who was diagnosed with mesothelioma, said that he was pleased with the new expansion and the care he received from AMH doctors and nurses.
“I think it’s great,” Gilley said. “I think it’s really going to help people.”
The new area also has a celebration bell that patients like Gilley will ring once their treatment is complete.
“Any time a patient finishes their therapy, it’s a great time to celebrate. They’ve really accomplished a big achievement,” Houser said. “We plan to celebrate with our patients and their families individually as they finish their treatments.”
According to Houser, AMH is already looking forward to their first celebration.
Hannah Myers can be reached at 336-846-7164 or on Twitter @cmedia_hmyers.